Playing Golf in Massachusetts

Saturday February 17th, 2007

As Labor Day weekend approaches, the hard-working minions of the PGA Tour have gathered in Boston to try and stop Tiger's drive for five. Even if Woods' gas tank is nearly empty, he'll likely still figure out a way to win his fifth straight event. The Arnold Palmer-designed TPC Boston is the venue for the Deutsche Bank Championship, but even if you could get onto this private course, it's not the place to tee it up if you want an unforgettable Yankee golf experience. Instead, sign up for the Hickory Heritage Golf Classic. This novel event is as "New England" as lobster rolls and the Kennedy clan.

Contested the first Sunday/Monday in October, the Hickory Heritage boasts one-of-a-kind camaraderie amid the competition, due primarily to the humorous, yet compelling sight of 144 golfers clad in required tournament attire: caps and knickers. Don't knock it 'till you've tried it. In addition, players are invited to play hickory-shafted clubs. To enhance the days-of-yore vibe, the stymie rule, banned since 1952, has been adopted for the Monday round.

One tournament round is held at one of Cape Cod's public courses. To be fair, Cape Cod offers a slew of very good public-access courses, ranging from surprisingly strong and attractive par-3 layouts, such as Blue Rock and Twin Brooks, to a personal favorite, the cramped, quirky, but utterly charming Bass River, a 1914 Donald Ross design (its over-the-river par-3 ninth is one of the Cape's best holes). At the upper end, you can access Cape Cod National, a magnificent modern private layout designed by Brian Silva by staying at the posh Wequassett Inn in Chatham. Among the top-tier tracks not to miss if you're cruising the Cape are Cranberry Valley, Ballymeade, Bayberry Hills and the Port and Starboard courses at Captains Golf Course.

Nevertheless, for the golfer craving the quintessential Massachusetts golf adventure, you've got to journey to Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard. Whether you stay a week or make it a quick day trip, there's nothing quite like hopping aboard a ferry, golf clubs in tow, for a scenic, breezy ride across Nantucket Sound.

Nantucket offers several superb, but mostly unattainable private courses, including Rees Jones' Nantucket Golf Club and Sankaty Head Golf Club. For Joe Public, the only game in town is at Miacomet, site of the 2005 Hickory Heritage event, a curious blend of nine ancient, low-profile holes and nine modern, Howard Maurer-designed holes. The new ones are nicely integrated into the flow of the layout, even if they look radically different, with larger, multi-tiered greens and sprawling bunkers. The lack of dramatic ocean vistas is a tad disappointing and the older holes aren't terribly interesting as far as sophisticated design, but the overall challenge, native grasses, superb setting and excellent clubhouse restaurant make it a must-play.

However, the one course you cannot miss is Farm Neck, in Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard. A favorite of former President Clinton, a.k.a. Mr. Mulligan, Farm Neck is just the kind of magical experience where you'd want to take extra shots, just to extend the day. Carved out of a handsome peninsula or "neck" of farmland along the eastern edge of the island, abutting Vineyard Sound, Farm Neck darts in and out of woods and salt marshes for much of its route, and then emerges at just the right time to burst into view of the Atlantic Ocean. The downhill par-3 fourth hole, the slender par-5 eighth and the tempting short par-4 14th all bring you to water's edge. Farm Neck will host the final round of the 2006 Hickory Heritage Classic. With all that Farm Neck offers, even if your team finishes rock bottom, you aren't going to feel all that bad.

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